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the million-dollar weight loss column
straight-up truth about taking it all off
by joe procopio (@jproco)

I've been athletic my whole life. Thus, I've never really given my weight a second thought. Well, that's not entirely true. I have a plan I like to call "project fat," which entails, at the age of 35, letting it all go to hell. And not just a little fat, but FAT baby, with an "F," like three-hundo, maybe tree-fitty.

That usually gets a good laugh. And that's where it ends. Sure, I toss the F-word around quite a bit, and probably without enough sensitivity. But I've always thought that only those people who are truly obsessed with their own appearance need worry about the fat label. Eat. Drink. Smoke. Watch bad television. Just don't hurt anyone along the way.

But then, no lie, January 2nd, after a rather raucous holiday season smothered in gravy, I pull into the men's room at work and, like a scene out of a Farrely Brothers flick, the button on my khakis pops off and plop - into the urinal.

What's a man to do but grab a paper clip from a nearby desk drawer and commence to fastenin'. I could only imagine the sheer joy I caused throughout the day as many a man strolled up to said urinal, got a look a the button lying smack in the middle of the mint, and laughed a knowing laugh. I got on the scale when I got home - a good 17 pounds overweight.

Holy smoked sausage!

With that splendid kick-off, I began my virgin journey into the world of weight loss. And can I tell you this? It is a crazy, ridiculous, bat-shit insane planet of confusion, misleading information, and a couple of cults.

Maybe it was the fact that the Atkins estate finally got a few deals done and that little "A" logo started popping up in the strangest places, along with fatholes like McDonald's and Wendy's shoring up their menus with what are essentially bunless burgers, but it seemed like everywhere I turned, I had the option of losing weight in a dangerous and less-than-lasting fashion.

Yeah, that's right. I'm probably not the first so let me be the loudest.


By eliminating carbs, which is essentially where you get your energy, and replacing that with proteins, you're putting all the strain on muscle without that ugly, weak-feeling part that would come along with it. I'm no doctor, and sure, I guess in a pinch if you had to drop from obese to not-so-obese quickly, that might be the way to go. But it won't stay off unless you stay off the carbs. And that leads to, if you want to get anything done in a day, an overabundance of meat.

Which is the happy road to heart disease, no?

So that was out. Even as a first-timer, I figured a diet rich in bacon was probably not the way to go. I turned to the substitutes.

Seriously? The Slim-Fast people need to be shot. Or at least shot at. Not only do those shakes have the consistency of house paint, but they taste like ass and have about as much impact on my appetite as a glass of water. No, I take that back. After one of those shakes, I was pretty sure I didn't ever want to put anything in my mouth again.

But then ten minutes later, I was hungry.

This same "invisible food" phenomenon holds true with the Snackwells. I have never eaten so many cookies at one time in my whole life. And it isn't like I tried to do such a thing, like I might with a box of, say, Friehoffer's chocolate chip. No, I looked down, and they were gone. Yet I still wanted another box.

So I have the willpower of a porn star. Maybe intake is not the end to tackle. Let's go with output. I sheepishly found exactly what I needed in a Men's Health book at Barnes and Noble called Lose Your Gut Now! I slinked up the register, the book crammed between an issue of Magnet and an issue of Wired ("See, I'm fat but I'm cool!"), sucked in my gut and paid.

I was fascinated. It had workouts from all sorts of people who I wouldn't mind looking like. Hey, there's Tom Brokaw! Surely I can keep up with that pretty boy.

Tom usually starts his day with a 7:30 a.m. run...

7:30 a.m.?

... through Central Park with his Labrador, Sagebrush. After 2 to 4 miles...

2 to 4 miles? OK, I'd be dead and my dog would explode.

... Brokaw returns home, works out with weights, and does situps and stretches...

Come on. I know his job is easy but jeez.

In the afternoon, he goes to the NBC gym for a second workout...

Aw, you fucking LIAR!

But they had a point. I would have to suck it up. Maybe I couldn't be as sexy as Tom Brokaw, but if it had to be done, it had to be done.

Not two weeks into it, I ended up with a stress fracture in my left foot. Somewhere up there, Dr. Atkins was giving me the finger.

But as I rehabbed, walking instead of running at first, and then building up to a max of a two mile run every other day, something crazy happened.

The weight started coming off.

In the two weeks that I was doing a daily four miles on the treadmill, I had dropped eight pounds and, once I was forced to stop, it came right back on. But then, there it went again, slowly, maybe a pound or two a week, until I got to where I am now, some twelve pounds under my heaviest weight and a mere five from my goal. Sure, it'll take a month or so to get there, but I will get there.

And that's the secret to weight loss.


Once I had gotten beyond the tomfoolery and into a moderate exercise program that I could handle, my appetite naturally reverted to what I needed. I found myself taking smaller portions, eating less crap and craving healthier stuff. And because I was forced to keep it up so I could kill myself again, I was forced to discover that I didn't need to kill myself at all, as long as I could wait a while longer for the pounds to drop.

And why doesn't anyone tell you this?

They do. Only you just read it here for free. And until someone figures out how to market something so bland and so simple and turn it into a recurring revenue stream, you're going to see that little "A" logo everywhere you go.


Joe Procopio trades in pop culture and tech culture, allowing him to poke fun at so many things. He's written for a number of online and offline publications from the late, lamented Smug to the fancy-pants Chicago Tribune and also for television. He's a novelist, a shredder, a joker, and a family man. Scoff at joeprocopio.com or follow on Twitter @jproco.

more about joe procopio


fear ends here
welcome to intrepid media
by joe procopio
topic: general
published: 3.1.00

the ramifications are always a bitch
by joe procopio
topic: general
published: 1.1.03


matt morin
3.1.04 @ 2:40a

Americans want the quick fix. In everything. We want to get rich quick. We want to become successful quick. And we want to lose weight quick.

I saw an ad today for 6 second abs.

Think about that. 6 seconds. I can't even burp in 6 seconds.

But Joe, you've nailed it here. The only true way to lose weight: Eat fewer calories than you burn. And the only way to do that is to exercise to keep your metabolism up.

If you just eat less, your body slows down its metabolism to compensate. So you burn even fewer calories, and more of what you eat is converted into fat.

But by exercising, not only do you burn calories, but you also build muscle - which burns calories when you're doing absolutely nothing. A heavily muscled man will burn more calories than a fat man - even when sleeping.

There's no quick fix though. Just keep at it.

david damsker
3.1.04 @ 8:56a

The latest current research on the Atkins diet shows absolutely no ill effects through a year out. The weight loss is about the same as someone on a normal, low-fat diet. Even the cholesterol levels come back down to normal (after an early spike) after a few months.

As of now, if someone came in to my office and asked about the Atkins, the only reason I have to tell them not to do it is if they have kidney disease.

Now, of course I'm no big fan of anything that let's me eat lots of my cream cheese, blue cheese, and bacon wrapped in american cheese sandwiches (which I actually like to eat at times). However, again, the medical evidence that's out there says it's OK for you.

However, when the 5-7 year studies come out, don't be shocked.

joe procopio
3.1.04 @ 9:52a

OK Dr. David, let's say Atkins is perfectly healthy - even so, the speed at which the weight comes off and the stress that puts on your body - doesn't that put it squarely into the fad diet category?

How long can you live your life without a decent source of carbs?

Also, doesn't it discourage a continuing exercise program by dropping energy levels to lethargic lows?

And thanks! It's awesome to get an actual medical opinion on this.

tracey kelley
3.1.04 @ 10:18a

The best thing about Atkins is that it created a hard-edged awareness that refined and over-processed foods like chips, white bread, crackers, cookies, boxed tacos and so on are Frankenfood, and thus, have empty calories and little-to-no nutritional value.

The worst thing about Atkins is the marketing machine that has you drinking an Atkins shake or eating an Atkins muffin instead of carrots or an orange. So, like with the Snackwells cookies, you "indulge", but still get a calorie-intake higher than your energy output.

When I use sub shakes, I usually use a lo-carb EAS shake. They don't taste as bad and have a lot of vitamins and minerals. But I usually use them as a snack substitute.

For my weight loss program, now that I have both feet working and a fairly normal thyroid again, I'm walking an average of 3-4 miles 6 days a week, 30-50 minutes at a time, yoga every day, and will start weight lifting again this week. I eat six really small meals a day, consisting mostly of seafood, fruits, veggies, whole grains, seeds & nuts (can't beat oatmeal and blueberries for breakfast), tons of water and green tea.

And a teeeeeensy bit of chocolate each day. Just to keep me from killing someone.

This is the most serious I've been about weight loss in 6 years. It's boring and tedious...and necessary. So be it.

joe procopio
3.1.04 @ 10:27a

You're on the right track. As for weights, since you didn't ask, low weight, lots of reps, work all your muscle groups from neck to calves - the coverage is more important than the frequency.

Also, take the first couple of sessions to do your weight routine with little or no weight. You'll thank me when you can do a full session and still get out of bed the next day.

tracey kelley
3.1.04 @ 10:53a

I'm actually quite disciplined with weights. For some reason, I enjoy the concentration of it. I've had previous success with 12/10/8/6/12 reps, starting with a small weight and working it up by 5-10 each rep increase.

I need weight gloves, though. Grrrrr.

Women respond so differently than men in weight loss situations, and it's harder for us, but many of the same principals apply. Matt*? 3 90-minute intense racquetball games a week, 2 days of weights, 6 small meals a day. His weight has only fluctuated when he had to rest his knee or had tennis elbow in his right arm, so he taught himself to play racquetball with his left arm until the other healed.

And he still wears jeans he had when he got out of college 16 years ago. Bastard. I love and hate him at the same time.

david damsker
3.1.04 @ 11:12a

I didn't say Atkins is perfectly healthy, just that the current body of medical evidence shows no proof of unhealthyness (again, other than renal disease).

It is certainly a fad diet, in that you can eat "as much bacon as you want". People don't want to feel deprived, so they turn to things like this. However, I have a feeling that the long-term studies of these diets will be hard to complete, since humans are designed to eat carbs. Maybe not overly-refined carbs, but certainly fruits and vegetables. Any diet that says you can't eat fruits and vegetables is bad news.

Actually, if you start a cocaine habit, you will lose weight. Does anyone advocate that "fad" diet?

Energy-wise, some people feel like they have more energy on this diet. I know some of these people. I still tend to think it's because they aren't fat anymore and they feel better overall from just being skinny.

Again, one year out, the weight loss is the same or better than the low-fat diet. However, the percentage of people who actually complete the year on Atkins is fairly dismal.

American's want to be lazy. Take a pill and burn the fat while you sleep. Heck, sounds good to me.

But like others have said here. It's calories in vs. calories out. No one has ever made a successful diet that has overcome that simple equation.

heather millen
3.1.04 @ 1:58p

I think Atkins is a ridiculous notion. I know it's not for me because 15 lbs of meat a day and no bread doesn't sound very appealling. I'm not the type of person who wants to wrap everything in bacon just because I "can." Ew.

Exercise is key. The one thing that I can't pinpoint is WHAT type of exercise at what rate is best for my optimal weight-loss plan. You know how many machines have a "fat loss zone" and "cardio zone." I always end up shooting past "fat-burning" because I don't feel like I'm doing something. Does this really matter? Oh, and I DON'T run, so any other ideas?

matt morin
3.1.04 @ 2:31p

It depends on what your goal is. If your goal is just to lose weight, any exercise will do.

But different levels of exertion do different things to your body. At certain levels of exertion, you body will burn carbs for fuel. Then it moves on to burning fat. At really high levels of exertion, it'll actually bypass those two sources and burn muscle.

louie b
3.1.04 @ 3:49p

i've been on atkins or a modified version for about 3 years now. i had a great deal of success the first year (-70 lbs) and then when i slipped off the diet the weight came back (+20) so i'm obviously no expert and i guess i'm a success and failure but i'm still down 50lbs and all my blood work and the like is fine.

i think the problem is that people don't understand that Atkins evolves as you get to different stages. it's not going to be all meat all the time. and you can introduce carbs back into your life. you just try to avoid all the processed crap that is out there in the world.

anyone who asks me about atkins and how it could work for them i always tell them that #1 they should read the book. it explains to you why and how low carbing works and it's more then just eating a lb of bacon for breakfast

i also agree that exercise is most important but i'd just like to defend my friend dr atkins who contrary to the rumor didn't die choking on a bacon cheeseburger :)

katie kilgariff
3.1.04 @ 6:58p

Okay. So, I have to chime in as I have spent most of my adult life somewhat obsessing over food and the burning of the calorie. I have been up and down that rollercoaster of a scale, and I'll tell you this....it is about patience. and determination. and small goals. and giving into cravings every now and then. But seriously, you should eat healthy and exercise. Unfortunately for some (myself included) the exercise that it takes to maintain weight is more than I had bargained for and often more than I have time for. So, I compensate by eating as well as I can (somewhere in the South Beach diet zone....no refined sugar, lots of fiber, limited carbs in the evening), exercising and trying to remember that the folks on the covers of magazines are my enemy!!! Of course, then there are weekends...and sometimes the beer just brings on the french fries.

matt morin
3.1.04 @ 7:17p

You know, there are a thousand little ways to burn off calories.

Instead of driving around for 10 minutes trying to get the best parking spot at the mall, make a point to park as far away as you can. The extra walk will do you good. Try that at work, too.

If you're sitting on the couch watching TV, do legs lifts - hold your legs straight out on front of you for as long as you can. Repeat throughout American Idol. Or do pushups/situps during commercial breaks.

Sign up at the SPCA as a volunteer dog walker. Then go walk a different dog 3 days a week for 30 minutes.

Of course there's the old stairs instead of the elevator trick.

All that little stuff adds up. No, you won't lose 50 pounds doing it. But maybe you'll lose 5. And then in 6 months you lose another 5. And so on, and so on.

sandra thompson
3.2.04 @ 9:05a

I spent most of my life saying exercise is bad for you. Now at the ripe old age of 69, I find I'm having to (heaven help me!) EXERCISE. It was fun when it was riding horses, or playing tennis, or swimming on the team, but just plain old exercise is a crashing bore, so I learned to walk around my neighborhood and talk to the neighbors who happen to be in their yards or just coming home or just leaving home. Saturday mornings are best. You'd just be amazed at how many people do yardwork on Saturday monrnings. (Of course, I don't because yardwork is BAD for you.) I combine this minor social function with the walking, and, guess what? It's not so boring. "What do you call those beautiful flowers?" "Is that a jacaranda tree?" "How often do you water your azaleas?" are all opening forays into the realms of neighborhood socializing. I suppose these ploys won't work in New York City to the same extent as here in the small town southeast. Yet, I remember striking up conversations there with, "What kind of dawg is that?" "How do you like your Miata? My daughter is joined at the right foot with hers." Unabashed extroverts unite, and try to talk to introverts. It'll be good for both of you.

joe procopio
3.2.04 @ 10:52a

So YOU'RE that person!

Actually, I'm a huge fan. Our neighboorhood comes to life at 5:30 and stays that way until it gets dark. All day on the weekends.

Unfortunately, my situation dictates that I don't get home until about 7:00, if I'm lucky, so it's the treadmill for me, which is the biggest drag in the world.

But outside is a beautiful place. I could run for an hour before I got bored.

joe procopio
3.2.04 @ 10:53a

A bit on Atkins, I'm not against Atkins per se, but against fad diets in general. I understand the ramp up particulars, and I think it's great to give someone a plan and a project. But like the vast majority of fad diets, it focuses on weight, not health or shape. If you've ever seen a skinny guy throw up after a half of soccer, you'll understand the difference.

trey askew
3.4.04 @ 3:18p

Joe, you've got me nervous now. I forgot my belt and I'm constanly paranoid the button is going to fly off my pants! At least the belly is doing a good job of holding my pants up though.

sarah ficke
3.4.04 @ 3:39p

This is why you should always stash a saftey-pin around you somewhere.

joe procopio
3.13.04 @ 6:42p

Update: I bought a real scale. Apparently, mine was a piece of crap. So it turns out my scale was reading 7 pounds light.


Man that hurts. I was actually TWENTY-FOUR pounds over my normal weight.

However, I'm glad I found out now, as I am only 8 pounds away.

Back to the... well, it really hasn't been a grind.

joe procopio
4.9.04 @ 6:38p

Final update: I did it. On January 2nd I weighed in at 179. Tonight I got on the scale at 154.5.

I'd be happy to share my "secrets" with any who inquire for, let's say, free.

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